The 2018 season figures to be transformative for the Chicago Cubs Minor League system.
According to most publications, the team doesn’t currently have any top 100 prospects, but they do have plenty of guys who could be there by the end of the season. And given that almost all of those names in the 100-200 range are pitchers, that growth would be most welcomed (if not downright necessary).
So before Spring Training gets underway next week, let’s catch back up with the Minor League system with some Cubs prospect notes …
- First up, Kyle Glaser (Baseball America) has the most fun thing you’ll read all day: a look at the best teams in the NL Central if every team was homegrown. In this style, the Cubs position player group is both stacked … and really familiar. Among the existing Cubs who make the team, you’ll find Willson Contreras behind the plate, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, and Ian Happ in the outfield. Around the infield, Josh Donaldson takes over third base for Bryant, Justin Bour plays first for Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro plays second base … which brings up two unusual problems: Kyle Schwarber and Javy Baez are both “honorable mentions.”
- If I were making this team, Schwarber would get the nod in the outfield over one of Happ/Almora (both can play center) and Javy would easily get the nod over Castro. Not only is Baez’s ceiling higher, he’s also been heading in the better direction lately, and has been worth 4.9 WAR over the last two seasons compared to Castro’s 3.0 WAR. Shrug. It’s all for fun anyway. Who would you start where?
- Follow-up: the Cubs rotation is not nearly as impressive, but maybe not horrible. It’s led by Rich Hill and Jeff Samardzija, with Andrew Cashner, Zach Godley, and Ricky Nolasco rounding things out. There’s some talent in there, to be sure, but let’s just say the trades for Kyle Hendricks, Mike Montgomery, and Jose Quintana, plus the signings of Jon Lester and Tyler Chatwood were good ideas.
- Baseball America recently wrapped up their prospect positional rankings, and the Cubs landed some names at four different spots …
- Right-handed pitcher: Adbert Alzolay – arguably the Cubs’ top prospect, comes in as the 46th best right-handed pitching prospect in the game. And while that might not seem too great, note that former Cubs top pitching prospect Dylan Cease comes in just one spot ahead of him (given how highly we thought of Cease, that’s actually very nice company). Jose Albertos – arguably the Cubs’ second best prospect – comes in at number 62, Alex Lange comes in at number 66, Oscar De La Cruz comes in at number 68, Thomas Hatch comes in at number 80, and Jen-Ho Tseng comes in at 89. See? Lots of dormant pitching upside in this system – that’s 6 of the top 90 right-handed pitching prospects in baseball. (Sure, you wish a few more were in the top 20 or so, but perhaps that’s coming this year.)
- Shortstop: When Adbert Alzolay and Jose Albertos aren’t listed as the Cubs’ top prospect, shortstop Aramis Ademan sometimes gets the nod (there’s not a ton of consensus at the top right now). And according to Baseball America, Ademan is the 16th best shortstop prospect in baseball (a group led by former Cubs prospect Gleyber Torres).
- Second base: David Bote is the Cubs prospect name that just keeps turning up no matter what you’re reading, and according to Baseball America, he’s the 20th best second base prospect in the game. At Double-A last season, Bote slashed .272/.353/.438. He’s probably not a future sure-fire starter, but he could be a useful bench guy as soon as this season after having been added to the 40-man roster in November.
- Catcher: Victor Caratini got some real love from Baseball America, ranking out as the sixth best catching prospect in the game. As a 24-year-old switch-hitting catcher with the ability to place the infield corners, the Cubs could do a whole lot worse. With Chris Gimenez in the fold, we might not see Caratini up right away, but before long he’s sure to be in the Majors – and moreover, his versatility might be best suited for a Joe Maddon-led squad.
- At FanGraphs, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel run through some lower-ranked prospects (non-top-100) that they really love and a few different Cubs make the cut. First up, 19-year-old Nelson Velasquez gets included in the lower-level outfielders group after posting a 129 wRC+ in his debut at Rookie Level in 2017. The Cubs drafted Velasquez in the fifth round last season (165th overall), and he’s off to a good start. Keep any eye on him this season.
- Dillon Maples gets a mention in the “close-to-the-big-leagues relievers” category (which is a pretty immediately useful group to be in), after posting a 1.96 ERA with a 34.6% strikeout rate in Triple-A last season, rocketing up from High-A. He did actually get a brief cup of coffee with the Cubs, but his command struggled followed him … and doubled upon reaching the Major Leagues (22.2 BB%). He did strike out a ridiculous 40.7% of batters faced in his 5.1 innings, though. If he can figure out the command issues, he’ll be an excellent late-inning option. Separately, Victor Caratini is the last of the lower-ranked Cubs prospects to get a mention.
- Also at FanGraphs, Chris Mitchell released his 2018 Top 100 KATOH Prospect rankings (ranking prospects in terms of how much WAR they’re expected to produce in their first six Major League seasons), and two positional Cubs prospects make the list. Caratini is way up there, tied for 32nd, and outfielder Charcer Burks – known largely for his stellar glove, but who also has a developing bat – is tied for 53rd.
- A few years ago, the Cubs landed several names on the list (I left some others out), and since it’s designed by projecting WAR, I thought this would be a fun update:
2015: Bryant (16.0 WAR), Russell (13.1), Schwarber (6.1), and Edwards (3.0) listed among KATOH's top prospect projections for WAR in first 6 MLB seasons.
Bryant: 21.6 WAR (3 seasons)
Russell: 8.2 WAR (3 seasons)
Schwarber: 3.3 WAR (3? seasons)
Edwards: 1.6 (3 seasons)
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) February 9, 2018
- And for one more FanGraphs post, Longenhagen and McDaniel also rank 2017’s graduated prospects and unsurprisingly, Ian Happ ranks 15th on the list and is the only Cub on it. Given that the top of the rankings include guys like Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada and other legitimately awesome Major Leaguers, this is a pretty good showing for the Cubs young outfielder/infielder.
- And at Cubs Insider, Evan Altman writes that Cubs pitching prospect Corey Black is “pain-free for the first time in year,” and ready to show everyone what he can do. Be sure to check it out. Given that he’s older (26), has reached Triple-A already, and is getting back on the mound after Tommy John surgery, you might see him in Chicago sometime this season.